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Volunteer killed by lion at wild animal park

By Gosia Wozniacka

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 07:43 a.m. HST, Mar 07, 2013

DUNLAP, Calif. >> A lion killed a volunteer intern at an exotic animal park in Central California after she entered its enclosure, and authorities were trying to determine what might have provoked the animal to maul her.

Cat Haven founder and executive director Dale Anderson was crying as he read a one-sentence statement about the fatal mauling at the private zoo he has operated since 1993.

The 26-year-old intern was attacked and killed when she entered the male African lion's enclosure, Anderson said, but he refused to provide more details.

Sheriff's deputies responding to an emergency call from Cat Haven, in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 45 miles east of Fresno, found the woman severely injured and still lying inside the enclosure with the lion nearby, Fresno County sheriff's Lt. Bob Miller said.

Another park worker had unsuccessfully tried luring the lion into a separate pen, so deputies shot and killed it so they could reach the wounded woman, who died at the scene, Miller said.

Investigators were trying to determine why the intern was inside the enclosure and what might have provoked the attack, sheriff's Sgt. Greg Collins said. The facility is normally closed on Wednesdays, and only one other worker was there when the mauling happened, he said.

The lion, a 4-year-old male named Cous Cous, had been raised at Cat Haven since it was a cub, said Tanya Osegueda, a spokeswoman for Project Survival, the nonprofit that operates the animal park.

Since the 100-acre facility just west of Kings Canyon National Park opened two decades ago, it has housed numerous big cats, including tigers, leopards and other exotic species. It is permitted to house exotic animals by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and is regulated as a zoo by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Results of the last 13 USDA inspections show no violations dating back to March 2010. The most recent inspection was Feb. 4.

Despite state regulations requiring annual inspections, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife most recently inspected the facility in January 2011, when the inspector found it in "good condition" after checking animal health and features such as enclosures.

"We have to do the best we can with the resources we're provided," said department spokeswoman Jordan Traverso. "Regardless of whether it was inspected, that wouldn't have prevented this from happening."

Department spokeswoman Janice Mackey said she was unaware if any state regulations would prohibit an employee from entering an exotic animal's enclosure.

Cat Haven's current "restricted species" permit, which expires in November, states the park was authorized to house 47 animals but had only 28. The animals must be used for scientific or educational purposes.

Actress Tippi Hedren, who founded the Shambala Preserve in Southern California, home to 53 seized or abandoned exotic pets, expressed dismay over the killing of the lion.

"It wasn't the lion's fault. It's the human's fault always," Hedren said.

Nicole Paquette, vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, said the victim of Wednesday's attack should never have been in the enclosure with the animal.

"These are big cats that are extremely dangerous, and they placed a volunteer in the actual cage with a wild animal," she said. "That should have never happened."

Officials at another big cat sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Fla., told The Associated Press last year that at least 21 people, including five children, have been killed and 246 mauled by exotic cats in the United States since 1990. Over that period, 254 cats escaped and 143 were killed.

In 2007, a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo was killed by police after jumping out of its enclosure and fatally mauling a 17-year-old boy and injuring two other people.

Cat Haven has housed Bengal tigers, jaguars and leopards as well as bobcats native to the area. The facility's website says it promotes conservation and preservation of wild cats in their native habitats and offers visitors tours and educational outreach.

Anderson said Project Survival would investigate to see if the intern and the other worker on-site followed the group's protocols.

"We take every precaution to ensure the safety of our staff, animals and guests," he said in a statement.


Associated Press writers Garance Burke in San Francisco and Sue Manning in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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bluespop wrote:
Why the hell would a sheriff's deputy shoot and kill the lion after the attack? This was apparently a case of human error on the intern's part.
on March 6,2013 | 02:00PM
Hoppy wrote:
Maybe the deputy shot and killed the lion so that the lion wouldn't eat or maul the intern's body more. If the intern was my family member, I would want the remains intact (as much as possible) so that a proper memorial can be given. I do feel for the lion, however, we don't know all the details.
on March 6,2013 | 05:35PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
They killed it so they could get to the woman, what.. you want them to get mauled too.
on March 6,2013 | 06:16PM
RetiredWorking wrote:
bluespop, Another park worker had unsuccessfully tried luring the lion into a separate pen, so deputies shot and killed it so they could reach the wounded woman, who died at the scene, Miller said.
on March 7,2013 | 05:07AM
hanalei395 wrote:
The lion is better off being dead than going back being cooped-up in a cage for the rest of his life, being bored, angry and unhappy. This was NOT a "Haven" for lions.
on March 7,2013 | 11:57AM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
I hope the deputy had a GOOD reason to kill that lion. (and NO, that the lion killed a human is NOT in and of itself a good reason). Jeez, a lion being a lion and look what happens...
on March 6,2013 | 03:41PM
aomohoa wrote:
It's called panicing!
on March 6,2013 | 05:42PM
SteveToo wrote:
To quote the Swamp King from Swamp People "Shootem, Shootem" LOL
on March 6,2013 | 10:39PM
kiragirl wrote:
Not to take away the tragedy but I would like to add this tidbit. A scorpion wanted to cross this raging river so he asked a frog if he could take him across by hopping on his back. The frog said he would get stung if he did that. The scorpion replied that if he did that, he would drown too. The frog said that it made sense so the scorpion hopped on the frog's back and they started across the raging river. Half way across, the scorpion stung the frog. The frog told the scorpion - now we both will drown. So why did you sting me? The scorpion replied, "because that's my nature". So too with the lion.
on March 7,2013 | 06:39AM
Dragonman wrote:
Could be the lion was killed because rescuers needed to get to the injured intern to it adminster aid. There is no time line given so we do not know when the lion was shot. We should not jump to conclusions before all the information involved in this tragic incident is released.
on March 6,2013 | 04:35PM
64hoo wrote:
all they had to do if there was time was to use a tranquilizer gun and knock it out. but maybe there was no time to do that so they had to kill the lion.
on March 6,2013 | 09:11PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
"We take every precaution to ensure the safety of our staff, animals and guests," he said in a statement. Well that is obviously not true. Why would you let a person enter an enclosure with a Lion without some type of protection. They're gonna get sued for sure.
on March 6,2013 | 06:15PM
808comp wrote:
The intern may not have followed procedures when entering the area. They should have used a tranquilizer gun to put the lion down,i'm sure the park would have something like that on hand.Like all cats they are hunters.What a sad ending.
on March 6,2013 | 06:58PM
hanalei395 wrote:
A lion, born with instincts to be free, but is in jail, for being a lion, will make him bored and angry. And will kill. People who "work" with these types of animals....must ASSUME that they will be killed by them. (The lion is, at least, now 'free").
on March 7,2013 | 01:57AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Like with whales, that sometimes get tired of doing stupid pet tricks just so they could eat, they kill their trainers by drowning them.
on March 7,2013 | 09:10AM
DABLACK wrote:
Accidents do not just "happen", they are caused. They need to look at their procedures. Someone messed up and died. Now the lawyers going to town !!
on March 7,2013 | 08:03AM
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